The travel headlines of 2013 fairly screamed: Cruise ship adrift in the Caribbean! T.S.A. agent shot! Plane crash at SFO! Massive typhoons! But for this top 10 list, we look at some of the more complex stories that are likely to have lasting implications on Americans' travel experience.
1 - Sequester and Shutdown Shenanigans
Only halfway into its term, the 113th United States Congress is already being called the least productive on record, not least because of across-the-board budget cuts implemented under sequestration in April, after no budget deal was reached.
Travelers felt the cuts keenly as Transportation Security Administration and air traffic control staff were scaled back at major airports. Some 150 smaller airports lost all their air traffic controllers.
"Nothing could be worse for commerce and the nation's economic recovery," said Michael W. McCormick, executive director and chief operating officer of the Global Business Travel Association.
By the end of April, Washington had gotten the message, and, for the Federal Aviation Administration at least, the budgets were restored.
Budget shenanigans resumed in October, though, with a federal government shut down of "non-essential" services. These included 90 percent of the FAA's air safety inspection team, effectively cutting off routine inspection of aircraft. This service, too, was restored after public outcry.
2 - American Airlines and US Airways Merge, Creating the World's Largest Airline
Announced in February 2013 and approved by regulators this month, American Airlines' merger with US Airways will create the world's largest airline, with, according to its website, "6,700 daily flights to more than 330 destinations in more than 50 countries and more than 100,000 employees worldwide."
In 2013, American got a new look and a very big new partner. (Photo credit: Getty Images
The splicing has only just begun as the two airlines integrate schedules, systems and frequent flier programs. Yet American is clearly viewing this as a reset after its 2011 bankruptcy: new livery, new aircraft interiors and more.
Bigger picture: analysts generally agree that a U.S. air travel market with only three global carriers (American, Delta and United) will be a far less competitive one, and fliers in smaller markets should brace for higher fares.
3 - Dreamliner Nightmares
Boeing's newest aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner, had a bumpy start to 2013. In January, instances of planes' batteries smoldering and catching fire (mostly while the planes were empty and on the ground) led to a worldwide grounding of the Dreamliner fleet to fix the problem. By May, the lightweight, composite planes were cleared to fly again. Despite some niggling occasional bugs, none of them injury-causing, Boeing reports that it received orders for 182 Dreamliners in 2013.
Long term, as the kinks are worked out, I bet passengers will like the Dreamliner's quieter ride, techie windows and cabin pressurized to a lower altitude (meaning fewer headaches and less dehydration), and airlines will like the 20 percent fuel savings versus conventional aircraft.